Each year, preventable medical errors kill a population roughly the size of Miami. This straightforward fact puts into perspective an enormous public health crisis: hospital errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Why have safety improvements been so slow-moving at many hospitals, and why do fatal mistakes continue to occur? The core problem is the lack of awareness on the part of consumers and health care purchasers – of both the scale of the danger and how to accurately gauge the safety performance of hospitals before choosing where to be treated. Hospitals that draw automatically on their local populations for patient intake, rather than having to compete with multiple rivals, often face little pressure to examine and scrutinize their performance. And for scrupulous consumers, existing data on hospital safety standards tends to be conflicting and opinion based.
The Leapfrog Group, a national nonprofit organization driving a movement for quality and safety improvements in American health care, devised a Hospital Safety Grade to help address this crisis. Calculated using objective statistics and input from top patient safety experts and made publicly available for free, the ranking system assigns letter grades of A, B, C, D or F to hospitals based on how well they protect patients from errors, injuries and infections. The Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade serves the vital purpose of substituting a simple, easily understood ranking system for the multitude of unreliable and contradictory information that exists on hospital performance. But to fulfill its function of holding hospitals accountable and saving lives, the Safety Grade had to become widely known and adopted as a health care ranking tool.